Thursday, June 11, 2015
– Country Hall of Fame member-elect and Grand Ole Opry member Jim Ed Brown, 81, died on Thursday in Franklin, Tenn. from cancer.
Brown, who released an album in January, was a star of the Opry for more than 50 years. He enjoyed hits as a solo artist, as a duet singer and as a member of The Browns with sisters Maxine and Bonnie. The Browns' 1959 crossover hit "The Three Bells" led Billboard's country chart for 10 straight weeks, and it spent four weeks at number one on Billboard's all-genre singles chart.
James Edward Brown was born April 1, 1934, in Sparkman, Ark. He spent the first decade of his life on a farm, without electricity or running water. On Saturday nights, the family would tune a battery-operated radio to WSM-AM (650) and listen to the Opry. As a teenager, Brown would mimic the vocal styles of Opry stars. In 1952, Maxine entered him into a talent competition at KLRA radio in Little Rock.
He didn't win, but was asked back to appear on the station's Barnyard Frolic show. Soon, he invited Maxine to sing with him on the Frolic, and their harmonies impressed touring musician Wayne Raney, who talked up the Browns to record labels. In 1954, they signed with Abbott Records and recorded their first Top 10 country hit, "Looking Back to See," which they wrote. Bonnie Brown soon joined her siblings, and the duo became a trio.
As The Browns, they enjoyed top 20 country hits with "Here Today and Gone Tomorrow," "I Take the Chance," "Just As Long As You Love Me," "Money," "I Heard the Bluebirds Sing," "Would You Care" and "Beyond the Shadow."
By 1959, however, the Browns considered calling it quits. Jim Ed Brown's service in the U.S. Army and the sisters' family lives interfered with their music, and Brown was running his father's sawmill.
The Browns, then signed to RCA, told producer Chet Atkins that they were thinking of quitting, but Atkins asked them to come to Nashville and record again.
"Chet asked if there was anything we wanted to do that we hadn't recorded," Brown said. "We told him about a song called 'The Three Bells' that we sang coming from Pine Bluff to Nashville. We recorded it, and after the session Chet said, 'You kids may think you're about to retire, but I think you've just recorded the biggest song we've ever done.'"
Brown was driving a truck in Arkansas in 1959 when he parked, walked into a drive-in to buy a Coca-Cola, and heard "The Three Bells" playing on the radio. The song resonated with country and pop audiences and ensured that Mr. Brown need not retire.
The Browns joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1963, on the strength of "The Three Bells" and follow-ups including "Scarlet Ribbons (for Her Hair)," "The Old Lamplighter" and "Send Me the Pillow You Dream On." But in 1967, Maxine and Bonnie decided to retire.
Jim Ed Brown stayed in Nashville as a solo artist on RCA, and he recorded his signature solo song in 1967 with "Pop a Top," a number 3 country single.
From 1967 through 1974, Brown also reached the Top Ten of the country charts with singles "Morning," "Southern Loving," "Sometime Sunshine" and "It's That Time of Night." In 1976, he began recording duets with Helen Cornelius, logging a number 1 country hit with "I Don't Want to Have to Marry You." With Cornelius, Mr. Brown won a CMA Vocal Duo of the Year award and reached country's Top 10 with "Saying Hello, Saying I Love You, Saying Goodbye," "If the World Ran Out of Love Tonight," "Lying in Love with You," Fools" and "Morning Comes Too Early."
Brown hosted on the Opry and on numerous television programs. He oversaw shows including the syndicated Nashville on the Road and The Country Place and The Nashville Network's You Can Be a Star and Going Our Way. In 2003, he began hosting syndicated radio program, Country Music Greats Radio Show.
In September 2014, Brown was diagnosed with lung cancer. While he was undergoing treatments, Plowboy Records released "In Style Again," his Brown's first solo effort in 40 years. Fellow Opry stars Vince Gill and Sharon and Cheryl White joined him on the album. In March, Mr. Brown and The Browns were elected along with Grady Martin and The Oak Ridge Boys as the newest members of the Country Music Hall of Fame.
"Fame is fleeting, hit records change every week, award show winners and nominees change every year, but being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame will be forever," Mr. Brown said, in response to receiving country music's highest honor.
The Browns' official induction will come in October, but CMA CEO Sarah Trahern, Country Music Hall of Famer Bill Anderson, and Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum CEO Kyle Young visited Brown in the hospital on June 4 to present him with a medallion commemorating his Hall of Fame membership.
"I've always loved to sing," Brown said. "My grandmother nicknamed me 'Jaybird,' because I'd go around singing all the time. I've gone through some hard times, but some good times, too. If push comes to shove, I'll do it again."